Madison Polkowitz / Gavel Media

Seeing Boston Through the Eyes of PULSE

Every year, dozens of PULSE courses are offered under the heading “Person and Social Responsibility,” with a handful of PULSE electives completing the roster of service learning courses at Boston College. While complete with a meaningful classroom component, the main draw of the PULSE program is that it provides an opportunity to break free of the BC bubble and head into Boston to serve marginalized populations and social justice organizations.

Still, the neighborhoods of PULSE placements usually differ greatly from the locations of the average student’s Saturday afternoon itinerary in Boston. Popular hangouts of BC students for leisure and entertainment include the Back Bay, Beacon Hill, and Fenway areas. However, the PULSE program introduces students to a different side of Boston, one not dotted with SoulCycle studios and organic salad bars.

Locations of PULSE community partners vary from wealthy, patrician neighborhoods to solidly middle-class areas to low-income districts and housing sections. That is the main virtue of PULSE: student experiences can vary wildly compared to their classmates based on their placement type and location. This variety can help eradicate the practice some students have of never exploring Boston's myriad of streets and neighborhoods, which makes the term the “BC bubble” so salient.

Mary Cobble, CSOM ’19, served at Rosie’s Place in Boston’s South End. A diverse neighborhood of fairly average socioeconomic status per capita, Cobble did not notice differences in the neighborhood so much as the atmosphere inside her placement.

While working the overnight shift at Rosie’s Place, Cobble realized that in the evening, “the three hours [the women] got to spend in front of the television watching The Voice was the safest, most stable part of their day, and they valued it as such.”

“We place so little value in being able to share a common, non-threatening living space with others or our families. To us, it’s just a living room,” Cobble continued. “But to them, that living room was a place where they could sit in solidarity and comfort.”

PULSE can help students to not only break free of the BC bubble, but also to gain an understanding of how conditions like poverty affect the experiences of people in Boston, mere miles from where BC’s campus sits.

Geographically, placements can introduce students to new areas of Boston or provide a new perspective on already familiar areas. The closest placement is the Campus School at Boston College and the farthest is likely the Boston Scholar Athlete Program in East Boston. Though students will note the differences between these two neighborhoods, both placements give students the possibility of a uniquely fulfilling experience. This allows students the opportunity to engage with the mission of the PULSE program, as stated by the PULSE website, to “educate students about social injustice by putting them into direct contact with marginalized populations and social change organizations.”

Looking at the listings of community partners, the fields that students can work in differ just as much as the neighborhoods of the placements. The diversity of service placements includes work in early childhood education, domestic violence advocacy, healthcare, addiction, and homelessness.

Nickie St. Clair, MCAS ’19, is a biology major on the pre-med track. Though she did not take the 12-credit core PULSE course, she is currently enrolled in the 3-credit PULSE elective, Boston: An Urban Analysis. As a part of the volunteering component of this course, she works at Boston Children’s Hospital—a placement the professor approved after her explanation of the work’s relevance to the core tenets of the PULSE program.

Like Cobble, she concurs that the neighborhood of her placement is no different from the ones she frequents. However, St. Clair does notice an exceptional amount of diversity inside of her placement, where she helps children and families adjust to the inpatient routine of the hospital.

“Walking the lobby of the hospital, it is very quickly apparent how international the patient population is," St. Clair notes. "Oftentimes we have patients who speak very little to no English, making it a challenge to communicate.”

Nonetheless, St. Clair says it is obvious her PULSE placement is a Boston institution, as she states that “you will often see families decked out in Red Sox gear.” This balance between being a local institution and an internationally-recognized hospital lays the ground for a fruitful volunteering experience, especially for a student on the pre-med track, and exposes her to the spectrum of Boston inhabitants.

The myriad dimensions of PULSE prove its worth as a hallmark class for BC students. From students pursuing volunteer work that aligns with their future career path to those seeking an immersive service experience in Boston, PULSE can provide a fulfilling placement for every student. On top of that, students are able to expand their education in ways a classroom never could. The very concept of PULSE is to put students in contact with people and organizations that are marginalized and dedicated to social change. This enables students to see a side of Boston previously concealed to them, creating a richer portrait of the dynamic city at BC students’ fingertips.


Rachel Connelly